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Books

Legal battles over use of Goebbels diaries

The English version of a Goebbels biography is due in May. The estate of Hitler's propaganda chief is suing Random House for using excerpts of the Nazi's journal. Should the heirs of a war criminal get royalties?

Joseph Goebbels was Hitler's Propaganda Minister. He kept detailed diaries, which provide an insider's view of the Nazi regime.

Joseph Goebbels in 1936. Copyright: Süddeutsche Zeitung photo.

In 1934, Joseph Goebbels published parts of his diaries on Hitler's rise to power

In his biography "Goebbels," published in 2010, the London-based history professor Peter Longerich included quotes from the diaries.

Cordula Schacht, Goebbels' inheritor, claims royalties for the publication of excerpts of his texts. The publisher of the biography, Random House, refuses to do so. Rainer Dresen, the lawyer for Random House told DW: "Give money to the heirs of a war criminal? Not in this lifetime!"

The Munich regional court appeared to be in Schacht's favor last year, deciding that the publisher should reveal the revenues generated by the Goebbels biography. The publishing house appealed the decision.

A war criminal's words

After the hearing held on Thursday (23.04.2015), Dresen says things are looking good for Random House. The Munich Higher Regional Court reluctantly accepted the appeal.

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. dpa / Everett collection

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels

Now the court needs to determine whether the words of one of the most important war criminals in history can be commercialized or not. A verdict is expected on July 9.

Schacht is the daughter of Hitler's Minister of economy Hjalmar Schacht. She claims to be the legitimate representative of the Goebbels' literary legacy, who committed suicide on May 1st 1945.

Dresen claims that Schacht refused Random House's proposition to donate the royalties to a Holocaust foundation, a sum between 6,000 and 10,000 euros (about 6,500 to 10,750 dollars).

Soon in the public domain

Ramdom House's lawyer explains that their case is not only supported by moral values: "Goebbels had an oral agreement with the publisher Eher Verlag about the posthumous publication of his diaries," says Dresen.

Book cover: Goebbels Peter Longerich. Copyright. Bodley Head

The German version of the biography was published in 2010. The English one is due this May.

All the rights of the then central publishing house of the Nazi Party, which also published "Mein Kampf," now belong to the Bavarian State.

Dresen is therefore convinced that Cordula Schacht's claims are unfounded. She does not hold the legal rights to these texts: They are to be managed by the Bavarian finance minister Markus Söder.

Random House is the first publisher to refuse to pay for the use of Goebbels’ diaries. "Bavaria let question drag on for years," explains Dresen. "For decades, the Goebbels family has been claiming money for the use of these quotes. Everyone paid and no one said let's fight against this," says the lawyer who didn't shy away from the legal dispute.

The copyright on Goebbels' texts expires this year, 70 years after his death.

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